America’s Response Amid the Derek Chauvin Trial Misses One Big Piece
Some might say it’s forgivable. I say it’s “forgiving.”
Should the perception of imperfect justice make the reality of forgiveness impossible?
I specify the “perception” of imperfect justice, because two camps exist: one believes that Derek Chauvin is guilty, while another believes that Chauvin should not have been declared guilty of all charges, if any, due to the added complexity of George Floyd’s drug use and the full context of the incident. At any given moment to one person or another, imperfect justice is the status quo.
The State of Minnesota v. Derek Michael Chauvin trial has been the most high-profile court case in America over the past year. On April 20th, 2021, a jury found Chauvin guilty on all accounts in regard to the death of George Floyd:
- Second-degree unintentional murder while committing a felony
- Third-degree murder
- Second-degree manslaughter
After the verdict was announced, public figures and brands across the country were quick to express that the outcome was not justice, but at most, accountability. Despite the extent to which you believe this may or may not be veritable (depending on whatever camp you fall into), what is certain is that there is more to this statement than what meets the eye. Yet, it would be a missed opportunity to accept it as the final evaluation. The truth it uncovers is a telling one that reveals the value of justice and forgiveness in American society today.
Even after a jury convicted Chauvin of the maximum charges brought against him, a number of Americans are left feeling it was not enough. Why is this the case? It largely relates to America’s disproportionate emphasis on justice compared to forgiveness — something that each of us could universally benefit from reflecting on more deeply.
Justice and Forgiveness Are Compatible
It’s a beautiful thing that so many Americans yearn for justice on earth. We’ve seen this situation clearly bring out this desire, and there is no question that we should seek out such a virtue.
However, there is a key piece missing from the conversation, and it’s worth pointing out that hardly anybody has said a peep about forgiveness.
It almost seems as if our society prizes justice at the expense of forgiveness, when that does not have to be the case. We can fight for wrongs to be addressed in the right way while also forgiving people who have committed mistakes and harmful actions. It’s an important step to take not only for our own vindication but also because it gives others an opportunity to change. If we refuse to let go of hurt, even after someone tries to make up for it or has received consequences for their actions, we will turn into very bitter people.
Bitterness Is Born When We Hold on to Injustices
Contrary to popular belief, bitterness is not caused by or dependent on anyone else — it’s not something that other people can control. Although we may be justified in feeling hurt, we are the ones who determine whether or not we allow pain to become a defining factor in our lives.
In life, everybody will eventually experience a form of injustice, be it big or small. Fortunately, bitterness is not an experience that everybody has to go through.
Nobody really thinks of themselves as bitter people unless they take the time to intentionally reflect on their state. This makes bitterness extra dangerous, because we can let it quietly fester one day at a time. Then when something finally triggers us, it will vehemently spew out as anger and rage when the whole time we were hardly aware of its growing presence. At that point, even we aren’t able to control it.
Bitterness Will Cause Us to Self-Destruct
We all know that bitterness negatively affects us mentally and emotionally, but research shows that it also negatively impacts us physically and can result in various health problems.
In the same way that bitterness hurts our own good, in the end, allowing bitterness to take hold of our society will divide citizens and destroy our nation from the inside out. A country that tries to progress with a baggage full of bitterness can only get so far, so fast. We witness this happen in relationships. Just apply this to even more intricate relationships involving 328.2 million people.
Going back to the Chauvin trial, before the verdict, the call for “justice” was stronger than ever. After the verdict was announced, many of those demanding “justice” expressed a sense of insufficiency around the conviction, though a jury found him guilty on all accounts. This begs the question of what “justice is served” looks like and how we get there. It seems impossible to satisfy true justice in this world.
Whether or not you are calling for progress for the same reasons, we can agree that human attempts at justice will never be enough. There is always work to be done. We can always do better. Still, it is an inadequate reason for excusing our readiness to forgive others now. Forgiveness does not wait until justice is done. It is not conditional on that by any means.
Where Do We Go from Here?
It’s likely that Derek Chauvin will be in prison for the rest of his life. Even if he were to walk, he will always be identified by his past. He’s viewed as a monster of a man, and if anyone humanizes him in any way, they’re at risk of being called out as a murder-and-injustice-supporting individual. But what does this solve?
If this whole case has shown us anything new, it is that we are more deficient in forgiveness and mercy than we are in justice, and this is reflected in the polarization within our country being stronger than ever.
It’s easy to say that justice still needs to be worked out and to sentence someone who you believe committed wrongdoing. This, we know is true. But it’s a lot harder to admit once all is said and done that there is a point at which we can forgive regardless of what we cannot change. We cannot bring people back to life. We cannot make different decisions that were already made. We can only shape the future, and boxing someone in or what they represent isn’t fair to them either.
Practicing forgiveness is a lot harder than enacting justice for a reason. Forgiveness is less about overlooking offenses, which are not to be excused or minimized at all as meaning nothing. Rather, forgiveness is more about looking over to something better. Instead of focusing primarily on the wrongdoing of others, we can humbly act on doing what is right.
Forgiveness and justice are fundamental to the making of an equitable and healthy society. Both are essential and vitally important. Justice looks back, and forgiveness looks ahead. Justice helps provide full peace and closure, and forgiveness helps us move forward. While they aren’t interchangeable, they aren’t interdependent either.
Sometimes it seems like justice has become about prison sentences and punishment over redemption and reform. Somehow, it’s more palatable to admit that we’re bitter people than to admit that we’re a people who cannot forgive, though one is simply a euphemism for the other. It would behoove us to recognize that these are equal statements.
So in light of everything that’s been said, the question I’d like to come back to is this: Should the perception of imperfect justice make the reality of forgiveness impossible?
My conclusion: It should not. It cannot. We need forgiveness more than we know.